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Three Research-Backed Ways to Help Your Child This Summer

Research suggests that it may not be as complicated (or expensive) as you think.

Key points

  • Many parents feel a lot of pressure to provide their children with enriching and educational summer experiences.
  • However, there is no evidence that expensive camps or vacations will give your child an advantage.
  • Research-backed ways to help your child this summer include: regular reading, allowing time for free play, and keeping some routines in place.

In the summer, many of us parents may feel intense peer pressure from other parents who have their children signed up for every enriching camp or have planned multiple educational and mind-expanding vacations. However, when you start to feel panic about not having planned “enough” for your child, you can rest assured that research finds no evidence that expensive camps or vacations will give your child a leg up. However, research does find evidence that the following three parenting practices may make a difference for your child this summer:

1. Read, read, read!

The positive impact of reading with your children cannot be overestimated. In fact, research suggests that regular reading may be just as effective as summer school in preventing summer learning loss.

This summer, try to create habits around reading where you are reading to your child, or they are reading to you at least once per day. Remember that it doesn’t have to be right before bed if that time doesn’t work for your family.

Make sure to allow your child choice over which books they read during the summer, as research suggests that having a choice may motivate children to keep reading while out of school.

While reading with your child, ask them to make predictions about the story and ask them questions about the story to check for comprehension. For older children, ask them to describe the characters, setting, problem, plot, resolution, and theme. Research finds that this approach may improve reading comprehension over the summer.

2. Don’t overschedule children and allow a lot of time for free play

Research finds that unstructured free play is associated with better-quality parent-child interactions, play skills, and language. Research also shows that the amount of time a child spends in unstructured free play is associated with improved self-regulation later in life. Free play is essential in helping children to learn and practice new skills, particularly social and emotional skills.

Filling a child’s summer with camps, swim team, music lessons, and other extracurricular activities not only disrupts opportunities for free play but may also interfere with quality family time and increase achievement pressure, which leads to anxiety and stress. Research suggests that this may be particularly true for preschool-aged children.

3. Set up some summer routines.

Routines can really be any activity that your family regularly engages in that involves two or more family members. Routines are commonly used during the school year to get children ready for school and in bed on time. In the summer, it feels nice to relax some of our typical routines and allow ourselves the freedom to stay at the pool late or eat popsicles at 10 a.m. However, make sure to keep some routines in place since family routines are associated with increased resilience and self-regulation abilities, more advanced social-emotional development, fewer behavioral problems and improved school readiness and academic performance, and enhanced cognitive abilities (IQ).

Even if it is a little later, try to keep a simple bedtime routine (a predictable set of activities before going to bed) in the summer. A bedtime routine is associated with many positive sleep benefits, including an earlier bedtime, increased sleep time, fewer night awakenings, improved parent sleep, improved mood, enhanced self-regulation, fewer behavioral problems, and reduced parent stress.

Additional examples of routines can include having a family meal at least several times per week, having special one-on-one time with a parent once per week, having one day per week that all family members help with chores, feeding the pets every morning and evening, having a quiet time or nap time, or even brushing your teeth before leaving the house. Even the most simple routines are comforting for both children and parents. Routines help children to feel safe and secure and prevent them from worrying about what will come next, which frees up their minds to learn about the world around them and enjoy their summer!


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